Embracing Pop Culture in Wedding Photography – An SLR Lounge Original Opinion Piece
Pop culture has become a big part of wedding photography and photography in general. As photographers, we see more photos than the average person. Because of that, as these trends come and go, photographers tend to get “annoyed” as every one of their clients wants to “plank,” do the “Hadouken photo” or horse dance like Psy. It is my opinion that photographers, within reason of course, should embrace these trends in pop culture rather than turn their nose on them. In this article, I will discuss why.
Avoiding the Elitist Mentality
Let’s be honest, as photographers, we have a tendency to become “elitists” in regards to photography. We quickly develop distinct preferences and styles, and we become critical of anything that could be considered a “cliche photograph.” Often times this is because we feel that these cliche photographs lack originality, artistry or simply because we despise the fact that “everyone is doing it.”
At Lin and Jirsa Photography, we shoot over 200 weddings a year and close to the same amount of general portrait sessions. We are culling and editing over 1.5 million images yearly, so we pretty much see it all, and we see it a lot! For example, here are a few of our many, many wedding party jumping photographs.
Our how about a more recent photography trend, the Hadouken.
Of course this phenomenon is not exclusive to photography and photographers. We tend to do the same thing whenever we are extremely invested in a particular creative passion. For example, the musician or music aficionado that refuses to listen to pop music because in their terms “it is garbage.” In reality, most pop music isn’t garbage, it is catchy and interesting which is why it becomes popular in the first place (that plus marketing of course). How about our friend, the film enthusiast, who refuses to watch “big budget trash.” Regardless of whether we are talking about music, film, art, photography or anything else, our tendency is the same.
When it comes to our hobbies and passions, we are always looking for the next bit of undiscovered creative originality. While we photographers should be constantly looking for the new and original, we shouldn’t disregard the fact that what is “old” to us is probably still “new” to our non-photographer friends and clients.
Having Fun and Respecting the Client’s Vision
As photographers, I think we often forget that photography isn’t just about capturing the next “breathtaking” moment or landscape or whatever you may be shooting, it is also about having fun. If your clients want to have fun jumping, planking or dancing like Psy in a photograph, who are you to say no? While you may already have seen hundreds of wedding couples dancing like Psy, these trends are most likely still new and fun for them. If they ask for Psy dancing photographs, I am going to use my creative vision to light and shoot my way to the coolest looking Psy photographs they have seen.
Below are a couple examples of some recent dance-floor-Psy activity. Nicely done peeps, nicely done!
That’s part 1 of respecting the client’s vision. Part 2 of respecting the client’s vision is that you understand your client’s personalities and needs. With every client, we discuss and review their moodboard to understand their photographic vision. In fact, because this is so important we show and cover the topic in detail on the Natural Light Couples Photography Workshop. If I have a couple with a more traditional and classic vision for their photography and event, I am not going to go around suggesting that we do jumping shots and goofy face photos.
Point being, understand your clients and respect their photographic vision, whatever it might be.
Embracing Pop Culture, Within Reason
If my clients want to do a Psy shot, or a jumping photo, or a goofy themed session, I am game. While I embrace pop culture in my photography, I embrace it within reason. Meaning that while we will gladly shoot these fun photographs, we always start each shoot with our signature and must-have photographs. In addition, I have a little rule of thumb which is that I don’t suggest that we do these pop culture themed photos during a shoot. Many clients will agree that these photos are cheesy and cliche, so I let them bring it up; I don’t go around suggesting that we do some Psy or Hadouken photos.
If my bridal party does request a silly jumping shot or dancing-Psy shot prior to our classic signature photos and formals, I will suggest that we shoot them after we capture our “must-have images.” I never want these trendy/goofy photographs to replace my signature images in our final delivery. You can imagine how upset parents of the bride/groom would be if you managed to capture great jumping shots of the bride/groom, but no classic “must-have” shots.
Here are a couple examples of some of our studio’s signature or “must-have” wedding party shots:
In the past, we have had clients request full “themed” portrait sessions. Again, while we encourage our clients to think creatively and incorporate their personalities into their photos, I also advise them that we should do half the session themed, and maybe half the session with a more natural vibe so we have some diversity in our product delivery. While some Disney or other themed photos are a cute addition to a portrait session, a full themed shoot may be something the client regrets a few years down the road. Either way, when you are asked to do these shots, put your own spin on it!
Add Some Originality!
Just because a client wants you to do a jumping shot, doesn’t mean that it has to be like every other jumping shot. Like I said, if my clients want to shoot a particular pop culture shot, I am going to use my creativity and photographic vision to make it my own.
With the same wedding party above, they asked to do a fun jumping shot. So rather than doing the typical jumping shot, we did a little “wedding party blitz.” Turned out great, unique take on a frequently requested shot and best of all, the client loved it!
One of our grooms requested some funny and epic basketball shots with his groomsmen. So, we busted out the flashes, got low and had a blast as we shot these hilariously epic dunks!
Being creative and putting your own spin on each of these client requests is not only going to impress and wow your clients, it is also going to keep you on your toes and prevent your work from getting stale. I constantly see photographers around me burning out and quitting the industry. Most of the time it isn’t because they are shooting a lot of photos, but rather it is because they are constantly shooting the same photos. So keep it fresh and change it up!
The Timeless Argument
Most often, I hear other photographers detesting pop culture related photographs because they are not timeless. Again, this isn’t really a good or even a valid argument. First, the pop culture photographs that we are shooting are really just a small part of a much larger product delivery where the majority of our images are our signature “timeless” style of photography. Delivering a few photographs with a T-Rex chasing the bridal party, or the couple dancing like Psy isn’t going to “taint” the timelessness your overall delivery.
Next, the entire nature of pop culture is to remind us of a specific time in our past. We love to look back and laugh at past trends in fashion when we were back in high school. We love listening to music from our teenage years because of its nostalgic qualities. Likewise, looking back at a photo of you planking or doing a Hadouken has a similar nostalgic value. It reminds us of the times, the trends and most importantly of having fun. As long as we didn’t shoot an entire Psy portrait session, why should these fun pop culture photos be something we are ashamed of?
I would always encourage photographers to shoot and produce images that are intended to be timeless. But, you shouldn’t be fearful that having fun or silly in front of the camera for a few shots will influence that.
How to Stay Timeless
Ok, so if having fun with some of our photographs aren’t going to affect our images from being timeless, what will? It is my belief that what makes a photograph timeless is avoiding stylistic photography and post production trends that we apply uniformly to all of our images. For example, I believe that there are a lot of photos that we shoot that look awesome and should be produced with a vintage style. However, applying vintage processing to every photo that we deliver would be something I believe the client would regret in 5 or 10 years. Likewise, shooting every photo with a particular theme (for example balloons) is something I think a client would regret down the road.
Again, this is why if a client wants balloons in their photos, I always recommend we use balloons in one scene only. That way we still have a variety of what we know will be timeless photos in our delivery.
To sum it up, it is my belief that a photograph with a strong subject matter, composition and produced in a style that is befitting of the image and story that is told will always be timeless.
So, What do You Think?
You all have heard my opinion on pop culture in professional photography, now it is time to share what you think. Be sure to comment and let us know below!
Disclaimer – All images are copyright Lin and Jirsa Photography. This article and the images within may not be used/re-posted without the express permission of SLR Lounge and Lin and Jirsa Photography.